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The Masses at the Gate: What’s Behind the People’s Movement in Guyana

By: Vivian M. Williams, Esq., LL.M.
For decades Guyana abandoned the principles of a merit-based society, opting instead for a system of political patronage. The country’s private sector followed in the shadows of the ruling political elites, elevating patronage and nepotism above merit and competence. Though One People, One Nation, One Destiny, the probability of success on the merits eluded generations of a hardworking and ingenious people. For more than quarter of a century, talented people have been falling through the cracks, the trajectory of their lives altered during adulthood precisely because of their ethnicity, thoughts and political association or lack thereof. Several generations of brilliant and extraordinarily talented people have been ostracized, marginalized and deprived even after the tides of colonial exploitation receded. These are the masses at the gate, trampled and systematically abused but still clinging to hope for a better day.

Vivian M Williams outside a New York Courthouse

The masses at the gate are weary and fed up of a system that excludes them, talks down to them and treats them as passive dwellers in a lopsided state built on a center-periphery model and greased by a top-down mentality. They have grown accustomed to barricades erected across the city, keeping them at bay from the Parliament when that deliberative body is in session. Barricades that jolt their quest for social and economic mobility are everywhere. For those who have been trying to climb out of the cracks for decades, time is running out. People are desperate, angry and very impatient, so when they heard the rallying crying “it is time” a few years ago, they jumped on board with great expectation.

The Cry for Justice is Deafening 

The exigency embodied in the mantra “it is time“, with its open-ended exhortation, lit a fire in a forest of discontent and secured a victory for the governing Coalition. Now in power, the Coalition should NOT expect great expectation to be displaced by feel-good rhetoric. Anxiety and uneasiness are part of the mood of the country. The masses at the gate expect transformative governance that produces structural changes that open up the gates to opportunities and prosperity. The people need social and economic justice and they need it fast. This is a reason why justifications premised on flashbacks are not going to satisfy public relations goals. The government has got to learn to sell a vision of change and governance of a new and distinctive quality.

Part of the great expectation is for a change in the fabric of the society and the way things are done. It requires new-direction-innovation not improvement-innovation. Improvement-innovation is useful to fix deficiencies in a sustainable system. It provides patch work and corrective action for weak links in a chain. This is useful when the overall vision and trajectory are ideal and progressive. Guyana does NOT have a system that needs fixing. The system needs to be uprooted and replaced with a completely new System. In a country where systemic marginalization has been the norm for decades, the need for a vision that drives new direction-innovation is so pellucid, it should be regarded as an undisputed fact.

When social and political activist Dr. David Hinds wrote that the government is a modified version of its predecessor, he is echoing the argument that the Coalition has NOT sufficiently reformed the processes of governance. Instead of taking note, the government pouted instead of introspecting. The response was anyone who compares it with its predecessor must be out of his mind. While campaigning against the PPP administration, President Granger who was the Leader of the Opposition at the time, was more attuned to the circumstances of the time. He poignantly summed up the nation’s flirtation with poverty. His own words then were:

“It is a modern-day miracle that many mothers manage their
families on their meagre earnings in the face of massive
impediments in Guyana today. Poverty is spreading, not shrinking.
The number of homeless and destitute persons continues to rise.
The solution is to reduce poverty, rather than increase the number
of institutions such as drop-in centres…”- David Granger

PUTTING VAT, PARKING METERS AND LICENSING FEES IN CONTEXT

The statement is an indication why social and economic justice should top the government’s agenda. The government should not be distracted from this goal.  To avoid derailment, attention must be paid to the unintended consequences of the various actions and policies being implemented. Surely, poverty would not be reduced by heaping and all kinds of expenditure on the poor. Though various forms of taxation increase revenue for the government, the local and central government should expect fierce resistance if they keep dipping into poor people’s pockets at every turn.

Historically, taxes and licensing fees have been used to marginalized various groups in society. In Guyana, these tools were used to maintain class structure through discriminatory policies.  Half a century of Independence did not change the fundamentals of social and economic marginalization. The persistence of the structures of inequalities and hostilities is captured in the unpublished play “The Deeds of State” in which one of the characters muses:

After all these decades of Independence, why are we still in this Gawd damn mess? Tell me why the seeds the slave masters planted in the back-dams of yesterday’s are still flourishing in the towns today:-  Vivian Williams’ Deeds of State

The usual response is that the two dominant political parties are maintaining the status quo but there is more to it than meets your eyes. In a forthcoming article I explain how organizational and social-structural anchoring are key contributors to partisanship in Guyana. Organizational basis of partisanship includes linkages to associations and institutions such as trade unions, that impact public opinion and political association.

In Guyana, trade unions are politically aligned and there are structural divisions within the workforce. Rural Indians are primarily employed in the agricultural sector and are represented by unions such as the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural Commercial and Industrial Employees NAACIE. These unions are aligned with the PPP. On the other hand, Afro-Guyanese supporters of the PNC are concentrated in government jobs, represented by unions such as The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) and Guyana Teacher’s Union (GTU). These unions historically support the PNC which is the dominant partner in the current coalition government.

The organization and structure of Guyana’s workforce contribute to marginalization and partisanship in two ways. First, a government could discriminate against and marginalize an entire segment of the population through the adoption of policies and allocation of resources. The ongoing debate on how the previous government destroyed bauxite while propping up the sugar industry is a good example. In an article titled Do Suh Nah Like Suh, trade unionist Lincoln Lewis examined this issue. This is the reason why the current furor over the fate of the sugar industry goes way beyond mere economic considerations.

Dysfunctional organizational structures also contribute to the anchoring of partisanship in Guyana. Various institutions such as the trade unions, the private sector and even the media do not act as a check on the political elites or effectively convey to the ruling political elites, the real concerns and interests of their constituencies. Instead, they maintain the partisan status quo through narratives combined with ambient stimuli that compels political loyalty. This is one of the reasons why there is often a disconnect between public officials and the people they serve. With a top-down mentality, what passes as consultation often takes place in echo chambers. There is an absence of an effective mechanism for the views and priorities of people to work their way up to the top and be reflected in policy decisions. This has produced disenchantment on both sides of the political spectrum.

Walking on Eggshells: Prado Ville -Prosecuting the Top Brass of the Previous Government

 

When you consider that PPP demitted office with unemployment as high as 59 percent in its stronghold and the APNU/AFC took the reigns of power with as much as 50 percent unemployment in its strongholds, you would understand why the implementation of parking meters was met with fierce resistance. The most important task for the current administration is the dismantling of the structures of oppression and building new pillars of prosperity. For those people who have fallen through the cracks for decades, the government must toss a lifeline not stick its fingers in their pockets. When the government looks back it must do so to change to the fundamental wrongs that are holding people back and open gates to prosperity to masses. It is time!

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Pandora’s Box: Requesting New List of GECOM Nominees A Dangerous Precedent

president-granger-black-background

President David Granger

By: Vivian M. Williams, Esq., LL.M

When Guyana’s President David Granger requested a second list of nominees for Chairman of the country’s Elections Commission (GECOM) from the Leader of the Opposition, he extended an olive branch and created a dangerous precedent. The submission of a list of nominees is a one-shot deal. The Constitution does not provide for the submission of a second list. It contains a provision for the President to make a unilateral appointment if a list of “fit and proper” nominees, not unacceptable to the President is not submitted. Mr. Granger found the list submitted to him unacceptable, apparently concluding it does not meet the “fit and proper” constitutional requirement. This should have triggered the provision authorizing the President to move forward and unilaterally appoint a Chairman.

Misconception and the Olive Branch

There is a misconception that the Constitution provides for a second list to be requested. It gives no such authority or discretion to the President.  Take a look at what the Constitution states:

… if the Minority Leader fails to submit a list as provided for, the President shall appoint a person who holds or has held office as a judge of a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court or who is qualified to be appointed as any such judge…

The use of the word “shall” instead of may should NOT be glossed over. When the word Shall is used in legal instruments, it serves as a command that takes away discretion. On the other hand, “may” confers a discretion. If the architects of the Constitution wanted to confer a mere discretion, they would have used the word “may”. They instead inserted  a command, which President Granger did NOT follow in this case.

The Constitution gives the President two consecutive options. First, the President is obligated to make a finding on whether the List satisfies the constitutional requirements. If it does, he is obligated to appoint a Chairman from one of the nominees. If the List does NOT satisfy the constitutional requirements, then the Constitution instructs the President to unilaterally appoint a Chairman. There is no provision for the President to rewind the process by requesting a new list. Though this  olive branch reflects consideration of the rancid  political reality in the country, it is a frolicked departure from the Constitution.

Fit and Proper: An Unnecessary Fight

Pandora’s Box: Requesting New List is a mistake

The request for a new list opens a pandora’s box and sets a dangerous precedent. There is now an expectation that if an obnoxious list is submitted by the Opposition Leader, an opportunity would be provided to submit a new list. This could lead to abuse by an Opposition Leader who may use the initial List to test the President and create confusion. Future denial of an opportunity to submit a new list would also cast the sitting President in a bad light. There is also the issue of when the President could invoke the authority to unilaterally appoint a Chairman. If he finds a second list unacceptable is he obligated to request a third?

In light of the political climate in the country, President Granger’s hesitance to invoke the power to unilaterally appoint a Chairman is commendable but his approach is imprudent. Instead of rejecting the List and requesting a new one, the President should have offered the Opposition Leader an opportunity to withdraw the list and submit a new one. The withdrawal would have forestalled the constitutional command to unilaterally appoint a Chairman by putting on hold, the rejection of the list. In this way Mr. Granger would have achieved the goal  of extending an olive branch and demonstrating good faith and awareness of the political sensitivity of the matter without acting in contravention of the Constitution. Failure by the Opposition Leader to accept the offer should have then resulted in a rejection of the List and unilateral action by the President.

The olive branch could have been a strategic play that puts the Opposition Leader on defense and keeps the focus on the quality of the list he submitted. It was an opportunity for the President to control the narrative. Instead, he is allowing his opponent to frame the issue and influence public opinion. The Opposition Leader has managed to shift atttention from the quality of the list submitted to the Constutionality of the  President’s action. His chief legal advocate, Anil  Nandlall, has pounced on this opportunity. The former Attorney-General is now making a presumptuous claim without any resistance from the Granger government. Here is what he is asserting in his own words:

“The Constitution speaks only to one list. A list of six names. A list of six names has been submitted, so the constitutional requirement in terms of a list has been met. What the President has rejected are the six names so six new names have to be supplied to be placed on that same list. For the purposes of the proviso which states that in the event that there is no list that the President can act, that Proviso cannot be triggered in this instance because there is a list:”- Anil Nandlall

Mr. Nandlall’s assertion that the President can only act unilaterally if NO list is submitted, is a very poor reading of the Constitution. The triggering condition for unilateral action by the President is failure to submit “a list as provided for“. What is provided for is not just a list of names but rather a list of “fit and proper” nominees, not unacceptable to the President. Nandlall is in La la Land dreaming that the Leader of the Opposition could keep providing names that are unacceptable and the President would be obligated to request new names. It would be prudent for him to advise his client to walk carefully on the olive branch extended to him. In a previous article I outlined why Mr. Nandlall, a fierce legal advocate, is  Dancing on Black Ice with his client.

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When is a Person Admitted Into The United States Through Inspection

What is the meaning of enter through inspection? This is a question that confronts every foreigner who seeks adjustment of status in the United States. It is a critical step in the process of adjustment of status. Surprisingly, it is a question that aliens answer incorrectly to their own detriment.

Many aliens and their U.S. citizen sponsors believe that to enter through inspection one must receive a stamp in his or her passport, questioned by an immigration officer, enter with a valid visa and in a particular status. This perception is wrong.

In Matter of Graciela Quilantan, the Board of Immigration Appeals made it crystal clear that “for purposes of establishing eligibility for adjustment of status under section 245(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8. U.S.C section 1255(a) (2006), an alien seeking to show that he or she has been “admitted” to the United States… need only prove procedural regularity in his or her entry, which does not require the alien to be questioned by immigration authorities or be admitted in a particular status.”

In Matter of Graciella Quilantan, the Respondent was a Mexican national who was a passenger of a car driven by her United States citizen friend to the U.S. border where an immigration inspector asked the driver if he was an American but did NOT ask Quilantan who was seated in the back seat anything. Quilantan did NOT have a valid document to enter the United States and did NOT receive a stamp in her passport but the car in which she was a passenger was allowed into the U.S. The Board of Immigration Appeals found that she was admitted through inspection and was eligible to adjust her status after she married a U.S. citizen.

The term admitted does NOT require you to be lawfully entitled to enter the U.S. This is so because of the 1960 amendment to section 245(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act which replaced the earlier requirement that the alien be admitted as a bona fide nonimmigrant, i.e. that an alien’s admission be substantively lawful, with a requirement that the alien simply be inspected and admitted or paroled into the United States.

The Board of Immigration Appeals thus stated in Quilantan “as long as an alien’s entry into the United States as a nonimmigrant was procedurally proper” (i.e., the alien underwent an inspection by an immigration officer, who subsequently admitted the alien), the alien could seek adjustment of status under section 245(a).

Aba Study Finds Self-Representation Resulting In Worse Outcome In Cases

An American Bar Association (ABA) study finds that more people are representing themselves and are doing a poor job at it.
In a survey of nearly 1,200 state trial judges around the country the ABA found that the weak economy has increased the number of litigants representing themselves in foreclosures, domestic relations, consumer issues and non-foreclosure housing matters. The judges surveyed believe the self-represented litigants are doing a poor job as well as burdening courts already hurt by cutbacks.
According to the ABA the judges interviewed in the study say case filings increased in 2009. The greatest increase is in foreclosures, domestic relations, consumer cases and housing matters.
The report released by the ABA finds that Self-representation is resulting in worse outcomes for litigants, according to 62 percent of the judges. According to 94 percent of the judges who participated in the survey, the greatest problem is failure to present necessary evidence.